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Founding Headteacher Appointed to Lead New Cambridge Mathematics School

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

The development of the new Cambridge Mathematics School, in partnership with the University of Cambridge, continues with the appointment of a founding headteacher.

 

We are excited to engage with the Cambridge Mathematics School to enable students from all backgrounds to ‘think like a mathematician’.

Professor Colm-cille Caulfield, Head of DAMTP

Maths education expert Clare Hargraves will lead the state-funded specialist sixth-form college, which is being created by multi-academy trust The Eastern Learning Alliance (ELA) in collaboration with the University’s Faculty of Mathematics.

Clare has maths leadership experience in secondary schools and sixth form colleges across the East of England, including as a deputy head in a school rated in the top 1% of state schools nationally, and during a sixth-form headship where she was responsible for transforming the outcomes of a previously underperforming college. Most recently, her trust-wide consultancy work has focused on curriculum design, the professional development of staff, and embedding a culture of rigorously high expectations in mathematics education.

She said: “It’s an enormous privilege to be the founding headteacher of the Cambridge Mathematics School, but this is of course a collaboration that involves the expertise, passion and experience of many people – including at the University of Cambridge. This partnership is committed to developing pioneering learning and ensuring truly outstanding and enhanced mathematics provision is available to A-Level students across the region.”

The Cambridge Mathematics School – which will open in Mill Road, Cambridge, in September 2023 – will teach 16 to 19-year-old A-Level students from across the East of England, and aims to attract more female students into maths subjects, more minority ethnic students, and more students from socially and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The principal aim of maths schools is to help prepare more of the UK’s most mathematically able students to succeed in maths disciplines at top universities, and address the UK’s skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

As part of the academy trust-University collaboration, the School is working with  the University’s Faculty of Mathematics, and in particular with the  Cambridge Mathematics project (a collaboration between  Cambridge University Press and Assessment and the Faculties of Education and Mathematics) to create an innovative mathematics curriculum. It is also drawing on the Faculty of Mathematics’ widening participation and outreach experience, in particular the success of the Millennium Mathematics Project (MMP) and its NRICH programme.

Lynne McClure, Director of the Cambridge Mathematics project, said: “There is a wonderful opportunity here to work with high attaining students and their highly qualified and passionate teachers, and to do something different. The Cambridge Mathematics team is looking forward to sharing our research and evidence base in the design of an exciting, engaging and cutting-edge curriculum.”

Professor Colm-cille Caulfield, Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge (DAMTP), said: “Mathematics in Cambridge has a rich past and a vibrant present. In the Faculty we aim both to advance mathematical knowledge through novel and insightful research, and to train the next cohort of mathematicians through innovative and rigorous teaching. Through MMP and NRICH we are committed to the development and support of pre-University mathematical education for all, and looking to the future, we are excited to engage with the Cambridge Mathematics School to enable students from all backgrounds to ‘think like a mathematician’.”

More information here.


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New Head at Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, has announced the appointment of Dr Christine Martin as Head of Seed Funds.

 

Christine has served as Interim Head of Seed Funds since February 2021. She brings a broad range of experience to the role, drawing particularly on previous positions within Cambridge Enterprise. These include having been Deputy Head of Seed Funds and Technology Transfer Manager for Drug Discovery. Prior to joining Cambridge Enterprise, Christine was a Senior Director at Biotica Technology Ltd. Christine holds a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Oxford.

The work of the Seed Funds team is central to Cambridge Enterprise’s ambition to create societal and economic impact from research at the University of Cambridge. Seed Funds identifies and invests in new companies formed to realise opportunities arising from the £600 million of research funding invested across the University annually.

Over the last decade Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds has established a portfolio of over 125 companies that have, in turn, raised in excess of £2.7 billion. Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds has an excellent track record, with 12% internal rate of return over both five- and ten-year terms. Having started with £8 million, the combined portfolio is now valued at £107 million.

Christine starts her new role having successfully raised £30 million of new investment from the University of Cambridge. She has an ambitious vision for the journey ahead, with an expansive remit to extend and enhance the investment outcomes on behalf of the University.

Christine takes over as Head of Seed Funds from Dr Anne Dobrée, who oversaw the dramatic and successful growth of the portfolio since 2011. Anne moves into a newly-formed role at Cambridge Enterprise as Director of Programming, with responsibility for developing new innovation deal flows from within the University.

 

About Cambridge Enterprise

Part of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Enterprise supports academics, researchers, staff and students in achieving knowledge transfer and research impact through commercialisation, consultancy and social enterprise.

 

This news story was first published on Cambridge Enterprise’s website on 06 April 2022.


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‘Robot Scientist’ Eve Finds That Less Than One Third of Scientific Results Are Reproducible

Breast Cancer Cell‘source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Researchers have used a combination of automated text analysis and the ‘robot scientist’ Eve to semi-automate the process of reproducing research results. The problem of lack of reproducibility is one of the biggest crises facing modern science.

 

One of the big advantages of using machines to do science is they’re more precise and record details more exactly than a human can

Ross King

The researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, analysed more than 12,000 research papers on breast cancer cell biology. After narrowing the set down to 74 papers of high scientific interest, less than one-third – 22 papers – were found to be reproducible. In two cases, Eve was able to make serendipitous discoveries.

The results, reported in the journal Royal Society Interface, demonstrate that it is possible to use robotics and artificial intelligence to help address the reproducibility crisis.

A successful experiment is one where another scientist, in a different laboratory under similar conditions, can achieve the same result. But more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, and more than half have failed to reproduce some of their own experiments: this is the reproducibility crisis.

“Good science relies on results being reproducible: otherwise, the results are essentially meaningless,” said Professor Ross King from Cambridge’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who led the research. “This is particularly critical in biomedicine: if I’m a patient and I read about a promising new potential treatment, but the results aren’t reproducible, how am I supposed to know what to believe? The result could be people losing trust in science.”

Several years ago, King developed the robot scientist Eve, a computer/robotic system that uses techniques from artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out scientific experiments.

“One of the big advantages of using machines to do science is they’re more precise and record details more exactly than a human can,” said King. “This makes them well-suited to the job of attempting to reproduce scientific results.”

As part of a project funded by DARPA, King and his colleagues from the UK, US and Sweden designed an experiment that uses a combination of AI and robotics to help address the reproducibility crisis, by getting computers to read scientific papers and understand them, and getting Eve to attempt to reproduce the experiments.

For the current paper, the team focused on cancer research. “The cancer literature is enormous, but no one ever does the same thing twice, making reproducibility a huge issue,” said King, who also holds a position at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. “Given the vast sums of money spent on cancer research, and the sheer number of people affected by cancer worldwide, it’s an area where we urgently need to improve reproducibility.”

From an initial set of more than 12,000 published scientific papers, the researchers used automated text mining techniques to extract statements related to a change in gene expression in response to drug treatment in breast cancer. From this set, 74 papers were selected.

Two different human teams used Eve and two breast cancer cell lines and attempted to reproduce the 74 results. Statistically significant evidence for repeatability was found for 43 papers, meaning that the results were replicable under identical conditions; and significant evidence for reproducibility or robustness was found in 22 papers, meaning the results were replicable by different scientists under similar conditions. In two cases, the automation made serendipitous discoveries.

While only 22 out of 74 papers were found to be reproducible in this experiment, the researchers say that this does not mean that the remaining papers are not scientifically reproducible or robust. “There are lots of reasons why a particular result may not be reproducible in another lab,” said King. “Cell lines can sometimes change their behaviour in different labs under different conditions, for instance. The most important difference we found was that it matters who does the experiment, because every person is different.”

King says that this work shows that automated and semi-automated techniques could be an important tool to help address the reproducibility crisis, and that reproducibility should become a standard part of the scientific process.

“It’s quite shocking how big of an issue reproducibility is in science, and it’s going to need a complete overhaul in the way that a lot of science is done,” said King. “We think that machines have a key role to play in helping to fix it.”

The research was also funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP)

 

Reference:
Katherine Roper et al. ‘Testing the reproducibility and robustness of the cancer biology literature by robot.’ Royal Society Interface (2022). DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0821


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Colleges for Mature Students Launch Cambridge 21+

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

When Olivia was asked by a teacher on her Access course “have you considered applying to Cambridge?” she thought it was some kind of joke.

 

“As someone who had spent some time working and then as a stay-at-home Mum, I did not have the confidence to imagine that a prestigious university such as Cambridge could ever be a viable option for me.”

Whilst many students returning to learning choose to take A-levels, Access courses are also an excellent option. They are designed for people thinking about returning to Higher Education after a gap and don’t have the conventional qualifications to enter a competitive course. Olivia thought ‘why not!’ and so applied.

”When I arrived at Wolfson College I found a warm, welcoming, and non-pressured environment.” Olivia is now in the second year of her English degree.

The University of Cambridge has three colleges specifically for mature students aged 21 and over: Hughes Hall, St Edmund’s and Wolfson. The three colleges have come together to launch Cambridge 21+: an outreach programme aimed at UK students who will be 21 or over when they start their degree.

The programme will offer information on studying at Cambridge, advice on making a competitive application and support with study skills. The programme starts with a series of free online advice sessions between the 20th to 22nd April. These will give a taste of what life is like for a mature student and tips on how to navigate the process of returning to the world of study. Participants will then be able to book free 1:1 video call advice sessions with Admissions Tutors from the three colleges and take up the opportunity for a free visit to the University in July, when they can visit the colleges and meet other mature students.

Hannah Elkington, Outreach and Student Recruitment Officer at Wolfson College, says:

“The application process can be daunting for someone who is returning to education after a period away. We want to make it as easy as possible to navigate. One of the things that we know a lot of potential students struggle with is the lack of confidence in believing they can secure a place. There are a range of courses that may suit them and their skillset so it’s often just a matter of tailoring their expertise to the right pathway. Cambridge 21+ is here to provide that inspiration and support.”

As Sophie, a third-year Education student at St Edmund’s explains:

“I had wanted to go to university but life kept getting in the way. I wished I’d applied when I was in school so I thought why not give it a go. I thought that it would be a bit of a long shot but I gave it a go and hoped for the best!”

And Beth, a Law student from Hughes Hall, says:

“It can be an incredibly daunting prospect to go to university a bit later, let alone applying to Cambridge. Try not to let those fears deter you from applying, it’s an incredible experience to be here, and you gain so much more from studying when you are a little bit older…you appreciate every moment so much more. So, apply, don’t be scared”

The deadline for applications to attend the online sessions is the 13th April. Details can be found here..


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Cambridge Festival to host a series of high-profile talks on Ukraine

source: www.cam.ac.uk

The Cambridge Festival, which begins today and runs until the 10th of April, will host a series of high-profile talks focussing on the war in Ukraine.

Escalation of the war in Ukraine has resulted in the tragic loss of human lives but also brought economic suffering to millions of Ukrainians. In the modern interconnected world, the war in Ukraine has a global impact. In Economic aspects of the war in Ukraine (Monday 4th April, 5pm-6.30pm, live stream) a panel of experts discuss the Ukrainian economy. More specifically, the speakers will cover the topics of the economic impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and look closer into the financial sector. Speakers include:

Dr Tymofiy Mylovanov, a Ukrainian economist and former Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine in 2019/20. Currently, Dr Mylovanov serves as President of Kyiv School of Economics and Associate Professor in Microeconomics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr Andrei Kirilenko, a Professor of Finance and Director of the Doctoral Programme at the Cambridge Judge Business School, as well as Founding Director of the Centre for Finance, Technology & Regulation (CFTR). Previously, Dr Kirilenko worked in different leadership positions at Imperial College Business School, MIT, US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and IMF.

Dr Alexander Rodnyansky, an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge in addition to serving as a Member of the Supervisory Board for the  State Savings Bank of Ukraine (second largest bank in Ukraine). In the past, he was Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.

Democracy is the focus of the second event, Ukraine vs Russia: War for Democracy (Thursday, 7th of April, 5pm-6.30pm, live stream). This talk is led by Oleksiy Honcharuk, a lawyer and politician, who served as Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and as the youngest Prime Minister of Ukraine from August 2019 until March 2020. Mr Honcharuk will speak about the ideological aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian war and the role of democracy in it.

Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Honcharuk said: “The Western world has forgotten the price of freedom. Too many people in the West, especially politicians, began to think that monstrous wars are in history, which will never repeat itself and their freedom will not be threatened. This is a terrible mistake for which Ukraine is now paying in full.

“Ukraine is currently an example for the entire free world. An example of how one should not be afraid of the darkness and fight for one’s values.

“If the West doesn’t draw conclusions from the example of Ukraine and will not stand by to stop the darkness, the whole world will plunge into this darkness.”

The third event in the series, Sacred Freedom on Your Side: Literature and Ukraine’s National Identity (Friday, 8th of April, 6pm-7.15pm, in person) centres on Ukrainian literature. The talk is led by Dr Rory Finnin, Associate Professor of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Cambridge. His primary research interest is the interplay of literature and national identity in Ukraine. His new book, Blood of Others: Stalin’s Crimean Atrocity and the Poetics of Solidarity, is being released this spring by University of Toronto Press.

In the final event for this special Cambridge Festival series, Dr Olesya Khromeychuk discusses Ukraine’s future during her talk, Ukraine: in defence of the future (Saturday 9th April, 3pm-4.30pm, in person). Dr Olesya Khromeychuk, who is the Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, is a historian of 20th century East-Central Europe, specialising in Ukrainian history. Dr Khromeychuk has previously taught at King’s College London, the University of East Anglia, University College London and the University of Cambridge. She is the author of A Loss. The Story of a Dead Soldier Told by His Sister.

The series of talks, which aim to increase awareness about Ukraine and raise funds for charity to help those affected by the Russian invasion, are part of a programme of over 350 online and in person events at the Cambridge Festival – which begins tomorrow and runs until the 10th of April.

The Festival is the University of Cambridge’s leading public engagement event, covering a wide range of issues, including geopolitical developments such as the rise of Eurasia and a discussion about political innovation in times of crisis. It is the largest event of its kind in the country. Almost all the events are completely free.

For the full programme and bookings, please see the Festival website: www.festival.cam.ac.uk   

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media: Instagram @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

HRH The Prince of Wales Visits World-Leading Cambridge Sustainability Projects and Opens Pioneering Green Retrofit Office

Clare Shine, CEO and Director of CISL, with HRH The Prince of Wales
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

During a visit to groundbreaking sustainability projects at the University of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales met with experts and practitioners from all sectors and disciplines working together to solve the world’s biggest problems.

 

Today we celebrate projects that have the power to change the way we live and the way our industries operate, hastening the transition to a low carbon world.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor

At a reception for the opening of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) low-carbon HQ and its new green entrepreneur hub, The Prince of Wales met with design and construction firms, owners of start-ups, small businesses and corporate CEOs, before moving onto events to celebrate Commonwealth scholars, and innovative academic and industry leaders collaborating on net-zero aviation – just two years after the Prince issued a challenge to accelerate innovation towards sustainable flight.

Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “The University of Cambridge’s work on climate change and sustainability is an outstanding collaborative achievement. Today we celebrate projects that have the power to change the way we live and the way our industries operate, hastening the transition to a low carbon world. The new Entopia building is now the most sustainable premises in the University’s estate, and a key contributor to reaching the target of eliminating our carbon emissions.”

Housed in CISL’s new ultra-green Entopia building, the Prince launched the Canopy incubator where SMEs and entrepreneurs can join the organisation’s international network of corporate, finance and sustainability leaders to share ideas and gain access to the wider University community.

 

Clare Shine, CEO and Director, CISL said: “Bolder leadership and action are critical for human security and planetary health over the next 10 years. Today’s launch of the Canopy incubator at the heart of our groundbreaking retrofit HQ takes CISL’s global reach and impact to new levels. We’re creating new bridges between entrepreneurs, SMEs and the most powerful actors in the economy, to put their collective weight and innovation capacity at the service of inclusive and sustainable development. CISL thrives on openness. Through Canopy and our collaborations across the University, we hope to embrace fresh perspectives and forge solutions that work for people, nature and climate.”

The £12.8m retrofit is supported by a £6m donation from greentech leaders Envision Group and a £3m grant from the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), which is also funding the operation of the Canopy. The University has invested its own funds in the project alongside an internal grant from its internal Energy and Carbon Reduction Project.

Michael Ding, Executive Director, Envision Group said: “Envision Group is pleased to support the Entopia building as a world-first retrofitted sustainable office building to showcase pioneering net-zero innovation and set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources. Entopia was conceived with the aim of housing a global hub and collaboration space for companies, academia and governments to push the boundaries of sustainability and accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions. Envision will play its full part to help bring together like-minded people as part of a bold vision to enable a future where everyone has access to clean, secure, affordable energy.”

HRH The Prince of Wales also visited the University’s Whittle Laboratory to see groundbreaking work hosted there on how to accelerate the transition to sustainable aviation. He was joined by Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Kwasi Kwarteng, and key figures from the aviation sector, including business and government representatives, to see both cutting-edge, zero-emission technology under development and a new global whole-system model of the aviation sector developed by the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) – an industry-academic initiative started two years ago by a challenge from The Prince of Wales for Cambridge to accelerate the transition towards sustainable flight. The AIA is led by The Whittle Laboratory and CISL.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “We are determined to seize the economic opportunities of the global shift to greener aviation technologies, which will help to secure growth and thousands of jobs across the country. That is why just this week we have announced record levels of Government funding for our Aerospace Technology Institute R&D programme.

“It has been fantastic to accompany HRH The Prince of Wales on a visit to one of our country’s great seats of learning to discover more about some of the incredible new zero-emission technologies that are currently under development at the world-class Whittle Laboratory.”

Professor Rob Miller, Director of the Whittle Laboratory said: “Achieving an aviation sector with no climate impact is one of society’s biggest challenges. Solving it will require a complex combination of technology, business, human behaviour, and policy. We have assembled a world class team of academics and industry experts to take on this challenge.”

During the event the Prince was introduced to the latest developments on a proposed new Whittle Laboratory building, currently under development. This new site would provide facilities for rapid technology development, cutting the time to develop technologies from years to months and act as a hub for the Aviation Impact Accelerator.  By bringing together multi-disciplinary global expertise from industry and academia this new hub will accelerate the aviation sector towards a climate-neutral future and help sustain the UK as a leader in aviation innovation.

In a visit to King’s College, the Prince met with HRH Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarship recipients currently undertaking their studies in Cambridge, and welcomed the launch of a new climate action scholarship programme for students from small island nations.  Working with HRH The Prince of Wales, Professor Toope developed the initiative that will support skills and knowledge development for students at the frontline of the climate crisis.

Scholarships will be provided at the University of Toronto, the University of Melbourne, McMaster University and the University of Montreal, as well as by the Cambridge Trust, which will offer 10 fully-funded HRH The Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarships over the next two years, with the first recipients expected to take up their places at the University of Cambridge in October 2022.

Helen Pennant, Director, Cambridge Trust, of which HRH The Prince of Wales is Patron, said: “The strength of the collaborative thinking between HRH The Prince of Wales and the University, and the scholars living with some of the most substantial impacts of climate change has the potential to make a huge difference – not only to support climate action in small island states, but also in seeding new conversations in the University and beyond that can widen the perspectives we need to see solutions to the climate crisis more quickly.”


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Poorly Conceived Payment-On-Results Funding Threatens To Undermine Education Aid

 

Analysis of a results-based-financing programme for education aid in Ethiopia finds that multiple aspects of the arrangement were unfit for purpose from the start and could undermine education reforms.

 

Some of the education reforms to which the funding is tied have inevitably ground to a halt since 2018

Pauline Rose

A payment on results approach to delivering education aid, which is championed by international institutions including the World Bank, is in danger of backfiring in some of the countries it aims to help, researchers believe.

The concerns are raised in a new study, by academics at the Universities of Cambridge and Addis Ababa, which examines results-based financing in education and heavily critiques one such programme in Ethiopia. It urges donors not to treat the approach as a “magic bullet” for poorer countries, echoing other studies which have flagged similar doubts.

Results-based financing is a funding model that has been widely adopted by Western governments and institutions to provide education aid to lower-income countries. Rather than handing out grants up front, the approach requires recipient governments to meet a set of target conditions which are agreed with donors in advance. The money is released as these conditions are met.

The targets vary, but typically involve improvements to attainment and enrolment in schools. According to the World Bank, results-based financing “could have a substantial impact in terms of achieving results that matter” in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The new study examined the ‘Programme for Results’ (PforR) scheme: a results-based financing package underpinning the latest phase of the Ethiopian government’s education reforms. This draws on a pooled fund, supported by a consortium of donors led by the World Bank.

Although the research is broadly supportive of the principle of linking funding to results, it found that several aspects of the financing project were unfit for purpose from the start. Many of the targets set through PforR, for example, fell short of those of the education reforms themselves. The researchers also argue that key groups of children, such as those with disabilities, were overlooked in the target-setting; inadequate systems were put in place to measure results, and some local authorities were unaware of the new system months after it began.

Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge, said: “The shortcomings we identified suggest that the potential for this results-based financing programme to improve education and learning is limited. In the worst-case scenario, it could end up undermining the very reforms it is meant to support.”

The study is not the first to question how results-based financing packages are being structured and implemented. Similar problems have been highlighted in several previous assessments, including an evaluation of a pilot programme in Ethiopia in 2015, and an assessment of funding programmes in Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania, in 2021.

The PforR initiative began in 2018 and is expected to run until 2023. Researchers examined the original programme appraisal document, and interviewed 72 of the donors and government officials responsible for its creation and delivery.

They found that many targets set through the scheme failed to match the ambition of the Ethiopian government’s reforms. Just 40% were linked to improving academic results, which is the principal aim of the government’s initiative. The PforR plan also specified that attainment should be measured at 2,000 schools which had been earmarked as requiring improvement. The bar set for the attainment targets that would unlock further funding was therefore often low; one donor described them as “a bit soft”.

While some of these targets took gender parity into account, researchers found that they overlooked other equity issues, such as how far education reforms were supporting marginalised groups including children with disabilities and those from the poorest backgrounds.

In the few cases where the PforR plan did specify targets for these groups, they were often widely considered to be inadequate. For example, education officials told the researchers that they had raised concerns at the plan’s draft stage about a target for expanding the number of Inclusive Education Resource Centres in Ethiopia. The researchers calculate that this target, if achieved, would affect just 10% of schools and fail to reach the majority of children with disabilities. The feedback raising this concern was never taken into account.

The paper criticises what appears to be a back-to-front approach to data-gathering. Several interviewees observed that systems were not in place to measure whether the PforR targets were being met before the programme started. Instead, improving data collection was itself set as a goal. In some cases, the study finds, this may mean that inaccurate information produced under the old, faulty system is likely to be contradicted mid-programme, creating the false impression that some targets are being missed.

The analysis also found a “significant gap in knowledge” about the programme’s introduction among regional and woreda (district) officials in the local education authorities charged with delivering results.

Months after it commenced, one official told researchers that he had “no clear understanding” of what ‘Programme for Results’ meant or involved. Another said that they had only heard “a rumour that the school grant is to be changed”. “These interviews were carried out during the first year of the implementation,” co-author, Dr Belay Hagos from Addis Ababa University, said. “We didn’t expect everyone to have a comprehensive knowledge of what it involved, but we did expect they would at least be aware of it.”

The authors suggest that these findings add further weight to existing evidence that some results-based financing packages are being implemented without adequate, contextualised planning, and without necessary preconditions – such as data-gathering measures – in place.

Rose added that there were doubts about how more recent developments in Ethiopia – notably the double shock of COVID-19 and conflict – would affect the arrangements. “Some of the education reforms to which the funding is tied have inevitably ground to a halt since 2018,” she said. “It is not entirely clear who will be responsible when results aren’t achieved in this context, and what sort of funding the government might eventually receive.”

The research is published in Third World Quarterly.


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Guests To Return To Graduation Ceremonies

Guests to return to graduation ceremonies

Graduating students, Cambridge

 

The University will welcome guests back to graduation ceremonies from April 2022 for the first time in two years. Due to the  pandemic, graduation was at first run in absence only, but in-person Degree Congregations were re-introduced later in 2021, with social distancing in place and live streaming available because we wanted to offer those graduating an occasion to celebrate with their fellow students.

 

We are delighted to be looking forward to welcoming family and friends back to the Senate-House

Bridget Kendall

From 29 April, family and friends will be able to attend these historic occasions in person, although the live streaming service will continue.

Degree Congregations are ceremonial meetings of the University’s Governing Body, the Regent House, where degrees are conferred, either in person or in absence if the student is not present.

The Chair of the joint University and Colleges Working Group on Congregations, the Master of Peterhouse, Bridget Kendall, said:

“We are delighted to be looking forward to welcoming family and friends back to the Senate House at our Degree Congregations from the end of April. Graduations are normally a highlight across the academic year, but the last two years have made it challenging to hold them. Guests have been able to watch an adjusted form of ceremony online since June 2021 and have appreciated that opportunity. For that reason, the streaming service will continue, allowing those who can’t attend to participate in real-time and share in the tradition of the occasion.”

 


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The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Scientists Find That The Impact of Social Media On Wellbeing Varies Across Adolescence

Scientists find that the impact of social media on wellbeing varies across adolescence

Boy using a smartphonesource: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Girls and boys might be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media use at different times during their adolescence, say an international team of scientists.

 

With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk

Amy Orben

In a study published today in Nature Communications, the researchers show that, in UK data, girls experience a negative link between social media use and life satisfaction when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old. Increased social media use again predicts lower life satisfaction at age 19 years. At other times the link was not statistically significant.

In just over a decade, social media has fundamentally changed how we spend our time, share information about ourselves, and talk to others. This has led to widespread concern about its potential negative impact, both on individuals and on the wider society. Yet, even after years of research, there is still considerable uncertainty about how social media use relates to wellbeing.

A team of scientists including psychologists, neuroscientists and modellers analysed two UK datasets comprising some 84,000 individuals between the ages of 10 and 80 years old. These included longitudinal data – that is, data that tracks individuals over a period of time – on 17,400 young people aged 10-21 years old. The researchers are from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

The team looked for a connection between estimated social media use and reported life satisfaction and found key periods of adolescence where social media use was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction 12 months later. In the opposite direction, the researchers also found that teens who have lower than average life satisfaction use more social media one year later.

In girls, social media use between the ages of 11 and 13 years was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction one year later, whereas in boys this occurred between the ages of 14 and 15 years. The differences suggest that sensitivity to social media use might be linked to developmental changes, possibly changes in the structure of the brain, or to puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls. This requires further research.

In both females and males, social media use at the age of 19 years was again associated with a decrease in life satisfaction a year later. At this age, say the researchers, it is possible that social changes – such as leaving home or starting work – may make us particularly vulnerable. Again, this requires further research.

At other times, the link between social media use and life satisfaction one year later was not statistically significant. Decreases in life satisfaction also predicted increases in social media use one year later; however this does not change across age and or differ between the sexes.

Dr Amy Orben a group leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.”

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge and a co-author of the study, said: “It’s not possible to pinpoint the precise processes that underlie this vulnerability. Adolescence is a time of cognitive, biological and social change, all of which are intertwined, making it difficult to disentangle one factor from another. For example, it is not yet clear what might be due to developmental changes in hormones or the brain and what might be down to how an individual interacts with their peers.”

Dr Orben added: “With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some of the really interesting questions.”

Further complicating the relationship is the fact – previously reported and confirmed by today’s findings – that not only can social media use negatively impact wellbeing, but that the reverse is also true and lower life satisfaction can drive increased social media use.

The researchers are keen to point out that, while their findings show at a population level that there is a link between social media use and poorer wellbeing, it is not yet possible to predict which individuals are most at risk.

Professor Rogier Kievit, Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, said: “Our statistical modelling examines averages. This means not every young person is going to experience a negative impact on their wellbeing from social media use. For some, it will often have a positive impact. Some might use social media to connect with friends, or cope with a certain problem or because they don’t have anyone to talk to about a particular problem or how they feel – for these individuals, social media can provide valuable support.”

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford said: “To pinpoint which individuals might be influenced by social media, more research is needed that combines objective behavioural data with biological and cognitive measurements of development. We therefore call on social media companies and other online platforms to do more to share their data with independent scientists, and, if they are unwilling, for governments to show they are serious about tackling online harms by introducing legislation to compel these companies to be more open.”

The research was supported by Emmanuel College, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Huo Family Foundation, Wellcome, the Jacobs Foundation, the Wellspring Foundation, the RadboudUMC and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Orben, A et al. Windows of developmental sensitivity to social media. Nat Comms; 28 March 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29296-3


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Supermassive Black Holes Put a Brake On Stellar Births

Supermassive black holes put a brake on stellar births

 

Black holes with masses equivalent to millions of suns do put a brake on the birth of new stars, say astronomers. Using machine learning and three state-of-the-art simulations to back up results from a large sky survey, researchers from the University of Cambridge have resolved a 20-year long debate on the formation of stars.

 

It’s really exciting to see how the simulations predict exactly what we see in the real Universe

Joanna Piotrowska

Star formation in galaxies has long been a focal point of astronomy research. Decades of successful observations and theoretical modelling resulted in our good understanding of how gas collapses to form new stars both in and beyond our own Milky Way. However, thanks to all-sky observing programmes like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), astronomers realised that not all galaxies in the local Universe are actively star-forming – there exists an abundant population of “quiescent” objects which form stars at significantly lower rates.

The question of what stops star formation in galaxies remains the biggest unknown in our understanding of galaxy evolution, debated over the past 20 years. Joanna Piotrowska and her team at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology set up an experiment to find out what might be responsible.

Using three state-of-the-art cosmological simulations – EAGLE, Illustris and IllustrisTNG – the astronomers investigated what we would expect to see in the real Universe as observed by the SDSS, when different physical processes were halting star formation in massive galaxies.

The astronomers applied a machine learning algorithm to classify galaxies into star-forming and quiescent, asking which of three parameters: the mass of the supermassive black holes found at the centre of galaxies (these monster objects have typically millions or even billions of times the mass of our Sun), the total mass of stars in the galaxy, or the mass of the dark matter halo around galaxies, best predicts how galaxies turn out.

These parameters then enabled the team to work out which physical process: energy injection by supermassive black holes, supernova explosions or shock heating of gas in massive halos is responsible for forcing galaxies into semi-retirement.

The new simulations predict the supermassive black hole mass as the most important factor in putting the brakes on star formation. Crucially, the simulation results match observations of the local Universe, adding weight to the researchers’ findings. The results are reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“It’s really exciting to see how the simulations predict exactly what we see in the real Universe,” said Piotrowska. “Supermassive black holes – objects with masses equivalent to millions or even billions of Suns – really do have a big effect on their surroundings. These monster objects force their host galaxies into a kind of semi-retirement from star formation.”

Reference:
Joanna M Piotrowska et al. ‘On the quenching of star formation in observed and simulated central galaxies: evidence for the role of integrated AGN feedback.’ Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab3673

Adapted from a story published by the Royal Astronomical Society.


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Dense Bones Allowed Spinosaurus To Hunt Underwater

Illustration of Spinosaurus hunting underwater
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Its close cousin Baryonyx probably swam too, but Suchomimus might’ve waded like a heron

 

There’s nothing like Spinosaurus in our modern world, but they had a number of traits that we see today in semi-aquatic animals who specialise in aquatic prey

Guillermo Navalón

Spinosaurus is the biggest carnivorous dinosaur ever discovered—even bigger than T. rex—but the way it hunted has been a subject of debate for decades. Based on its skeleton, some scientists have proposed that Spinosaurus could swim, but others believe that it waded in the water like a heron.

To help solve this mystery, palaeontologists from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and the Field Museum in Chicago, have taken a different approach by examining the density of their bones and comparing them to animals like penguins, hippos and alligators.

The team’s analysis, published in the journal Nature, found that Spinosaurus and its close relative Baryonyx had dense bones that likely would have allowed them to submerge themselves underwater to hunt. Meanwhile, another related dinosaur called Suchomimus had lighter bones that would have made swimming more difficult, so it likely waded instead or spent more time on land like other dinosaurs.

“The fossil record is tricky—there are only a handful of partial spinosaurid skeletons, and we don’t have any complete skeletons for these dinosaurs,” said co-lead author Dr Matteo Fabbri from the Field Museum. “Other studies have focused on interpretation of anatomy, but if there are such opposite interpretations regarding the same bones, this is already a clear signal that maybe those are not the best proxies for us to infer the ecology of extinct animals.”

“There’s nothing like Spinosaurus in our modern world, but they had a number of traits that we see today in semi-aquatic animals who specialise in aquatic prey,” said co-lead author Dr Guillermo Navalón from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences.

All life initially came from water, and most groups of terrestrial vertebrates contain members that have returned to it—for instance, while most mammals are land-dwellers, we’ve got whales and seals that live in the ocean, and other mammals like otters, tapirs, and hippos that are semi-aquatic. For a long time, non-avian dinosaurs (those that didn’t branch off into birds) were the only group without any water-dwellers. That changed in 2014, when a new Spinosaurus skeleton was described.

Scientists already knew that spinosaurids spent some time by water—their long, crocodile-like jaws and cone-shaped teeth are like those of other aquatic predators, and some fossils had been found with bellies full of fish. But the Spinosaurus specimen described in 2014 had retracted nostrils, short hind legs, paddle-like feet, and a fin-like tail: all signs that pointed to an aquatic lifestyle. But researchers have continued to debate whether spinosaurids swam for their food or if they just stood in the shallows and dipped their heads in to snap up prey.

This continued back-and-forth led the researchers to try to find another way to solve the problem.

“Instead of trying to know as much as possible about the whole skeleton of Spinosaurus, we asked a much simpler question — what are the most important small-scale observations that would tell you whether animals routinely swim or not?” said co-lead author Professor Roger Benson from the University of Oxford.

Across the animal kingdom, bone density is a tell in terms of whether that animal can sink beneath the surface and swim. Dense bone works as buoyancy control and allows the animal to submerge itself.

“We thought maybe this is the proxy we can use to determine if spinosaurids were actually aquatic,” says Fabbri.

The researchers put together a dataset of femur and rib bone cross-sections from 250 species of extinct and living animals, from seals, whales, elephants, mice and hummingbirds, to dinosaurs of different sizes, to extinct marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs.

They compared these cross-sections to bone from Spinosaurus and its relatives Baryonyx and Suchomimus. “We had to divide this study into successive steps,” said Navalón. “The first was to understand if there is actually a universal correlation between bone density and ecology. And the second was to infer ecological adaptations in extinct taxa.”

Essentially, the team had to show a proof of concept among present-day animals that we know for sure are aquatic or not, and then apply it to extinct animals that we can’t observe.

The study revealed a clear link between bone density and aquatic foraging behaviour: animals that submerge themselves underwater to find food have bones that are almost completely solid throughout, whereas cross-sections of land-dwellers’ bones look more like doughnuts, with hollow centres.

“Aquatic animals need to be able to control their buoyancy, but terrestrial animals don’t have this problem,” said Navalón. “Because bones are mineralised tissue, controlling the rate of deposition of mineralised tissue within them is the easiest route to become denser or lighter for a land-dwelling vertebrate. This happened in many groups that underwent the ‘back to water’ evolutionary journey: from whales and hippopotamuses to penguins and marine reptiles that lived in the distant past.”

When the researchers applied spinosaurid dinosaur bones to this paradigm, they found that Spinosaurus and Baryonyx both had the sort of dense bone associated with full submersion.

“If we combine all these pieces of evidence, Spinosaurus might have moved through shallow water using a combination of ‘bottom-walking’ – like modern hippos – and side-to-side strokes of its giant tail,” said Navalón. “It probably used this means of locomotion not to pursue prey for long distances in open water, but to ambush and catch very large fish like lungfishes or coelacanths that lived in the same environment.”

Meanwhile, the closely-related Suchomimus had hollower bones. It still lived by water and ate fish, as evidenced by its crocodile-mimic snout and conical teeth, but based on its bone density, it wasn’t actually swimming.

Other dinosaurs, like the giant long-necked sauropods also had dense bones, but the researchers don’t think that meant they were swimming. “Very heavy animals like elephants and rhinos, and like the sauropod dinosaurs, have very dense limb bones, because there’s so much stress on the limbs,” said Fabbri. “The other bones are pretty lightweight. That’s why it was important for us to look at a variety of bones from each of the animals in the study.” And while there are limitations to this kind of analysis, there is potential for this study to tell us about how dinosaurs lived.

“One of the big surprises from this study was how rare underwater foraging was for dinosaurs, and that even among spinosaurids, their behaviour was much more diverse that we’d thought,” said Navalón.

The study shows how much information can be gleaned from incomplete specimens. “The good news with this study is that now we can move on from the paradigm where you need to know as much as you can about the anatomy of a dinosaur to know about its ecology, because we show that there are other reliable proxies that you can use,” said Fabbri.

 

Reference:
Matteo Fabbri, Guillermo Navalón, Roger B. J. Benson et al. ‘Subaqueous foraging among carnivorous dinosaurs.’ Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04528-0

Adapted from a Field Museum press release.


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Crop Science Centre To Conduct Field Trials of Genetically Modified Barley That Could Reduce Need For Synthetic Fertilisers

Barley trial crop in field
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Trials will evaluate whether enhancing the natural capacity of crops to interact with common soil fungi can contribute to more sustainable, equitable food production

 

Working with natural and beneficial microbial associations in plants has the potential to replace or greatly reduce the need for inorganic fertilisers

Giles Oldroyd

A field trial of genetically modified and gene edited barley is due to be planted this April. The research is evaluating whether improved crop interactions with naturally occurring soil fungi promote more sustainable food production.

Scientists are hopeful that the results from the trial will demonstrate ways to reduce the need for synthetic fertilisers, which could have significant benefits for improving soil health while contributing to more sustainable and equitable approaches to food production.

The trial is being conducted by researchers at the Crop Science Centre, an alliance between the University of Cambridge and the crop research organisation NIAB. It will evaluate whether improving crop interactions with naturally occurring soil fungi can help them more efficiently absorb water along with nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil. Nitrogen and phosphorous are two essential nutrients critical to crop production that are often provided through synthetic fertilisers.

While the use of synthetic fertilisers increases crop productivity, excessive applications in high and middle-income countries has caused environmental pollution that reduces biodiversity, as well as producing greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, fertilisers are often too expensive or unavailable to local farmers, which limits food production. That contributes to both hunger and poverty, because in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, most people depend on farming to support their families.

“Working with natural and beneficial microbial associations in plants has the potential to replace or greatly reduce the need for inorganic fertilisers, with significant benefits for improving soil health while contributing to more sustainable and equitable approaches to food production,” said Professor Giles Oldroyd, Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science, who is leading the work.

He added: “There is an urgent need for ecologically sound approaches to food production that can satisfy the demands of a growing global population while respecting limits on natural resources. We believe biotechnology can be a valuable tool for expanding the options available to farmers around the world.”

The trial will evaluate a barley variety that has been genetically modified to boost expression levels of the NSP2 gene. This gene is naturally present in barley and boosting its expression enhances the crop’s existing capacity to engage with mycorrhizal fungi.

In addition, the trial will test varieties of barley that have been gene edited to suppress their interaction with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This will allow scientists to better quantify how the microbes support plant development by assessing the full spectrum of interactions. They will measure yield and grain nutritional content in varieties with an enhanced capacity to engage the fungi and those in which it has been suppressed–while comparing both to the performance of a typical barley plant.

Professor Oldroyd said: “Barley has properties that make it an ideal crop for studying these interactions. The ultimate goal is to understand whether this same approach can be used to enhance the capacity of other food crops to interact with soil fungi in ways that boost productivity without the need for synthetic fertilisers.”

The trial will assess production under high and low phosphate conditions. It will also investigate additional potential benefits of the relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, such as protecting crops from pests and disease.

The trial will follow the regulations that govern the planting of genetically modified crops in the UK, with oversight conducted by Defra and its Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE.) There will also be inspections during the trial, carried out by the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, which is part of the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. The inspection reports will be publicly available.

More information about GM field trials is available here.


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Lack of Transparency Over Cost Of Conservation Projects Hampers Ability To Prioritise Funds For Nature Protection

Frog
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A new study has found that costs of conservation projects are rarely reported, making it difficult for others to make decisions on the most cost-effective interventions at a time when funding for biodiversity conservation is severely limited.

 

If we’re serious about addressing biodiversity loss, knowing the financial costs of interventions is as important as knowing their effectiveness

Thomas White

A review of 1,987 published reports of conservation interventions has found that only 8.8% reported the total cost of the intervention, and many of these were not detailed or standardised. The authors say this makes it very difficult to determine the cost-effectiveness of different interventions, and to make decisions on how to spend limited funding for biodiversity conservation.

The review, by researchers in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, is published today in the journal BioScience. This is the first time that cost reporting across a broad range of wildlife conservation interventions has been reviewed.

“If we’re serious about addressing biodiversity loss, knowing the financial costs of interventions is as important as knowing their effectiveness. But the cost of projects is rarely reported for others to benefit from,” said Thomas White, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the paper.

Dr Silviu Petrovan, in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and a co-author of the study, added: “Wildlife conservation across the world is severely limited by funding, and the lack of information on the cost-effectiveness of different interventions makes it very difficult to prioritise where this money is spent.”

The work is part of the University of Cambridge’s Conservation Evidence project, led by Professor Bill Sutherland, which has compiled a huge resource of scientific information on the effectiveness of different conservation interventions. It is designed to support anyone making decisions about how to maintain and restore biodiversity.

For this new review, the team checked 1,987 studies in peer-reviewed journals and other reports – representing actions to conserve a range of different species and habitats – to see whether financial costs had been reported. Only 13.3% of these reported any financial costs at all.

“Even when costs are reported, the lack of consistency between reports makes it difficult for others to work out whether a cost is relevant to their project or not,” said Professor Bill Sutherland in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, a co-author of the study.

He added: “It’s frustrating because the people who implemented conservation projects probably do know how much they cost, it’s just that the information isn’t making its way into the scientific literature so others can benefit from it.”

The review found that costs were reported more often for some specific types of intervention, such as those linked with agriculture – which the authors suggest could be due to the nature of farming as an income-driven activity. Planting hedgerows or wildflower strips on farmland to encourage wildlife, or applying herbicide to control invasive plants, for example, incur costs that farmers must factor into their operations and are easily measurable.

In addition, costs were reported more often for conservation projects in Africa than in other parts of the world. The authors suggest this could be because projects in African countries are more likely to be led by conservation organisations that must prioritise cost-effectiveness.

The authors recommend that researchers, publishers and practitioners report the costs of conservation interventions in standardised formats, so that they can be used to improve decision-making by everyone planning a conservation project. They are now developing a framework to make it easier to report these costs.

“There are some easy steps to be taken to fix this – it’s just about creating a culture of reporting costs as part of reporting a conservation project, and making sure those costs are in a format that allows others to understand how much it would cost them to implement a similar action in a different context,” said White.

The authors say that in healthcare settings there is also a need to efficiently allocate resources – but unlike in conservation, healthcare decision-makers have access to a developed body of work that collates and analyses information on effects and costs. The effectiveness of conservation interventions can be more difficult to evaluate because many factors may be involved – such as acceptability to local communities, or feasibility with the skills and equipment available – as well as cost.

At COP26 in Glasgow last year, world leaders recognised the connection between the global biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis – and the critical role that nature plays in both adapting to and mitigating climate change.

“We’re losing global biodiversity at an alarming rate – it’s a real risk to society, and we need to be serious about reversing that trend. To do it will require unprecedented conservation action at a scale we aren’t yet achieving and we don’t have the finances for. So we need to be really careful about selecting the most cost-effective interventions with the money we’ve got,” said White.

This research was conducted as part of a PhD, funded by the Balfour Studentship at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

Reference

White, T.B. et al: ‘What is the price of conservation; a review of the status quo and recommendations for improving cost reporting.’ BioScience, March 2022. DOI: 10.10.93/biosci/biac007


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Greater Business-University Collaboration Will Reap Rewards, Says New Report

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Interactions between UK businesses and universities are broad based and beneficial, but are being held back by firms’ lack of capacity and information to tap this key resource, says a new report co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School.

 

Valuable interactions between businesses and universities in the UK take many forms, but a lack of capacity by firms and information from universities is holding back even greater collaboration, says a new report.

The report by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) and the Centre for Business Research (CBR) at Cambridge Judge Business School found that people-based interactions are the most common form of business-university interaction at 45%, followed by problem-solving interactions at 30%, commercialisation at 24%, and community-based interaction at 23%. Even within the commercialisation category, use of academic publications was most common at 19%, while spinouts and licensing were only 9% and 2%, respectively.

Report based on survey of nearly 4,000 companies

The report based on an online survey of 3,823 companies in 2020-21 found that there is much untapped potential for the university sector to work further with business. Collaboration is curtailed by companies’ lack of capacity to tap this important resource and by a lack of information from universities on how they can help businesses.

“A key finding of the report is that interactions take multiple forms that are far more frequent than spinoff and licensing transactions, and the vast majority of businesses interacting in these multiple forms find benefits that meet or exceed their expectations,” said report co-author Alan Hughes of Imperial College Business School and the Centre for Business Research (CBR) at Cambridge Judge.

“But the survey results also make clear that it’s lack of capacity on the part of companies, and a shortage of information provided by universities – rather than the costs of interaction – that is holding back greater collaboration with the UK’s university sector, and this is costing the economy in terms of innovation and competitiveness. This issue could be addressed by businesses devoting more attention and staff to building their capacity for interactions with the university sector. This would be time and money well spent in terms of potential rewards and impact on company performance.

“Universities could also devote more attention to informing companies about the support that can be provided, and business schools have an important role to play in this.”

Firms lack ability to seek knowledge from universities

Among the more detailed findings, the survey showed that companies of all types and sizes are “lacking in the ability to search for external knowledge from universities and invested only modest effort and time in integrating this knowledge into their companies”. More than half of companies with at least one interaction with universities said that lack of resources was the biggest constraint on further interaction, followed by difficulty in identifying a university partner to help their businesses.

The impact of COVID-19 has caused major disruptions to university-business links, with more than a third of firms reporting that it had impacted their interactions with universities. If the destructive impact of the pandemic on collaborations persists it will harm future economic growth and business performance.

The 115-page report – The Changing State of Business-University Interactions in the UK 2005 to 2021 – is co-authored by Alan Hughes of Imperial College Business School and the CBR at Cambridge Judge; Michael Kitson, Assistant Director of the CBR; Ammon Salter of the University of Bath; David Angenendt of Technical University of Munich and the CBR; and Robert Hughes of the CBR.

Other findings of the report include:

  • UK businesses interact with universities on a global scale, not only locally or regionally. “Knowledge exchange interactions operate over multiple regional, national and international geographies.”
  • Individual academics and individual professional staff at universities play a big role in starting and sustaining collaboration with businesses. “Personal contacts are important mechanisms for university-company interactions.”
  • The diversity of university types in the UK higher education sector is a “strength of the system”, because companies interact with large research-focused universities as well as smaller and more specialised institutions.
  • Companies that interact with universities rely on a diverse spectrum of academic disciplines.

Universities can help in full range of business functions

“Companies seek university interactions to solve the full range of business functions,” says Alan Hughes. “These wider functions span strategy and business organisation, finance, logistics, human relations and marketing. As a result, interactions spread far beyond the STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) disciplines to encompass, in particular, business and management studies and the social sciences, as well as arts and humanities. Non-STEM disciplines are particularly significant in knowledge-intensive services and other service industries, which are the dominant sectors in UK economic activity.”

More than 80% of all companies surveyed said their university interactions met or exceeded their expectations, yet this was greater in more business-related areas of interaction such as human resource management, financial planning and business strategy. Interactions that did not meet expectations were concentrated in tech and process development, as well as logistics and procurement.

“This finding is a reminder that the UK higher education sector, including business schools, play a role far broader than only in the well-publicised technology sector,” said co-author Michael Kitson, Associate Professor in International Macroeconomics and Director of the MBA Programme at Cambridge Judge.

“Developing new technologies are, of course important, but the survey shows that a focus only on technology risks businesses and universities alike missing out on organisational and other business-related activities that benefit companies across the UK.”

Originally published on the Cambridge Judge Business School website.

 


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Scientists Find That The Impact of Social Media On Wellbeing Varies Across Adolescence

Boy using a smartphone
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Girls and boys might be more vulnerable to the negative effects of social media use at different times during their adolescence, say an international team of scientists.

 

With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk

Amy Orben

In a study published today in Nature Communications, the researchers show that, in UK data, girls experience a negative link between social media use and life satisfaction when they are 11-13 years old and boys when they are 14-15 years old. Increased social media use again predicts lower life satisfaction at age 19 years. At other times the link was not statistically significant.

In just over a decade, social media has fundamentally changed how we spend our time, share information about ourselves, and talk to others. This has led to widespread concern about its potential negative impact, both on individuals and on the wider society. Yet, even after years of research, there is still considerable uncertainty about how social media use relates to wellbeing.

A team of scientists including psychologists, neuroscientists and modellers analysed two UK datasets comprising some 84,000 individuals between the ages of 10 and 80 years old. These included longitudinal data – that is, data that tracks individuals over a period of time – on 17,400 young people aged 10-21 years old. The researchers are from the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.

The team looked for a connection between estimated social media use and reported life satisfaction and found key periods of adolescence where social media use was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction 12 months later. In the opposite direction, the researchers also found that teens who have lower than average life satisfaction use more social media one year later.

In girls, social media use between the ages of 11 and 13 years was associated with a decrease in life satisfaction one year later, whereas in boys this occurred between the ages of 14 and 15 years. The differences suggest that sensitivity to social media use might be linked to developmental changes, possibly changes in the structure of the brain, or to puberty, which occurs later in boys than in girls. This requires further research.

In both females and males, social media use at the age of 19 years was again associated with a decrease in life satisfaction a year later. At this age, say the researchers, it is possible that social changes – such as leaving home or starting work – may make us particularly vulnerable. Again, this requires further research.

At other times, the link between social media use and life satisfaction one year later was not statistically significant. Decreases in life satisfaction also predicted increases in social media use one year later; however this does not change across age and or differ between the sexes.

Dr Amy Orben a group leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “The link between social media use and mental wellbeing is clearly very complex. Changes within our bodies, such as brain development and puberty, and in our social circumstances appear to make us vulnerable at particular times of our lives.”

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge and a co-author of the study, said: “It’s not possible to pinpoint the precise processes that underlie this vulnerability. Adolescence is a time of cognitive, biological and social change, all of which are intertwined, making it difficult to disentangle one factor from another. For example, it is not yet clear what might be due to developmental changes in hormones or the brain and what might be down to how an individual interacts with their peers.”

Dr Orben added: “With our findings, rather than debating whether or not the link exists, we can now focus on the periods of our adolescence where we now know we might be most at risk and use this as a springboard to explore some of the really interesting questions.”

Further complicating the relationship is the fact – previously reported and confirmed by today’s findings – that not only can social media use negatively impact wellbeing, but that the reverse is also true and lower life satisfaction can drive increased social media use.

The researchers are keen to point out that, while their findings show at a population level that there is a link between social media use and poorer wellbeing, it is not yet possible to predict which individuals are most at risk.

Professor Rogier Kievit, Professor of Developmental Neuroscience at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, said: “Our statistical modelling examines averages. This means not every young person is going to experience a negative impact on their wellbeing from social media use. For some, it will often have a positive impact. Some might use social media to connect with friends, or cope with a certain problem or because they don’t have anyone to talk to about a particular problem or how they feel – for these individuals, social media can provide valuable support.”

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford said: “To pinpoint which individuals might be influenced by social media, more research is needed that combines objective behavioural data with biological and cognitive measurements of development. We therefore call on social media companies and other online platforms to do more to share their data with independent scientists, and, if they are unwilling, for governments to show they are serious about tackling online harms by introducing legislation to compel these companies to be more open.”

The research was supported by Emmanuel College, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Huo Family Foundation, Wellcome, the Jacobs Foundation, the Wellspring Foundation, the RadboudUMC and the Medical Research Council.

Reference
Orben, A et al. Windows of developmental sensitivity to social media. Nat Comms; 28 March 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29296-3


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Stackable ‘holobricks’ Can Make Giant 3D Images

Stackable ‘holobricks’ Can Make Giant 3D Images

Reconstructed holographic images of a toy train with holobricks and original image captured by a camera
Reconstructed holographic images of a toy train (top) with holobricks and original image captured by a camera (bottom) Credit: CAPE

 

Researchers have developed a new method to display highly realistic holographic images using ‘holobricks’ that can be stacked together to generate large-scale holograms.

 

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and Disney Research, developed a holobrick proof-of-concept, which can tile holograms together to form a large seamless 3D image. This is the first time this technology has been demonstrated and opens the door for scalable holographic 3D displays. The results are reported in the journal Light: Science & Applications.

As technology develops, people want high-quality visual experiences, from 2D high-resolution TV to 3D holographic augmented or virtual reality, and large true 3D displays. These displays need to support a significant amount of data flow: for a 2D full HD display, the information data rate is about three gigabits per second (Gb/s), but a 3D display of the same resolution would require a rate of three terabits per second, which is not yet available.

Holographic displays can reconstruct high-quality images for a real 3D visual perception. They are considered the ultimate display technology to connect the real and virtual worlds for immersive experiences.

“Delivering an adequate 3D experience using the current technology is a huge challenge,” said Professor Daping Chu from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who led the research. “Over the past ten years, we’ve been working with our industrial partners to develop holographic displays which allow the simultaneous realisation of large size and large field-of-view, which needs to be matched with a hologram with a large optical information content.”

However, the information content of current holograms information is much greater than the display capabilities of current light engines, known as spatial light modulators, due to their limited space bandwidth product.

For 2D displays, it’s standard practice to tile small size displays together to form one large display. The approach being explored here is similar, but for 3D displays, which has not been done before. “Joining pieces of 3D images together is not trivial, because the final image must be seen as seamless from all angles and all depths,” said Chu, who is also Director of the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE). “Directly tiling 3D images in real space is just not possible.”

To address this challenge, the researchers developed the holobrick unit, based on coarse integrated holographic displays for angularly tiled 3D images, a concept developed at CAPE with Disney Research about seven years ago.

Each of the holobricks uses a high-information bandwidth spatial light modulator for information delivery in conjunction with coarse integrated optics, to form the angularly tiled 3D holograms with large viewing areas and fields of view.

Careful optical design makes sure the holographic fringe pattern fills the entire face of the holobrick, so that multiple holobricks can be seamlessly stacked to form a scalable spatially tiled holographic image 3D display, capable of both wide field-of-view angle and large size.

The proof-of-concept developed by the researchers is made of two seamlessly tiled holobricks. Each full-colour brick is 1024×768 pixels, with a 40° field of view and 24 frames per second, to display tiled holograms for full 3D images.

“There are still many challenges ahead to make ultra-large 3D displays with wide viewing angles, such as a holographic 3D wall,” said Chu. “We hope that this work can provide a promising way to tackle this issue based on the currently limited display capability of spatial light modulators.”

Reference:
Jin Li; Quinn Smithwick; Daping Chu. ‘Holobricks: Modular Coarse Integral Holographic Displays.’ Light: Science & Applications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41377-022-00752-7

source: cam.ac.uk


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Personalised Blood Test Can Detect Persistent Lung Cancer

Personalised Blood Test Can Detect Persistent Lung Cancer

Test tubes containing blood
Blood test Credit: Belova59

 

Patients who are at a higher risk of their lung cancer returning can be identified by a personalised blood test that is performed after treatment, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

 

Liquid biopsy can be used to detect tiny amounts of residual cancer after treatment, flagging those patients who have signs that their tumour may not have been eradicated completely with treatment

Nitzan Rosenfeld

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute used a personalised blood test for patients, which is a type of liquid biopsy that can pick up tiny fragments of DNA that are released into the blood as tumours grow. This DNA, called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), can reveal the state of the tumour, its location and potentially its weaknesses, which could be used to select the best treatments.

The results from the Lung Cancer Circulating Tumour DNA (LUCID-DNA) study, funded by Cancer Research UK, have been published today in the Annals of Oncology.

Many patients who are treated for early-stage non-small cell lung cancer can be cured with either surgery, radiotherapy or sometimes (chemo)radiotherapy.

After treatment, lung cancer patients are carefully followed up with tests including CT scans to find out if the treatment has removed the tumour, but scans won’t pick up tiny quantities of cancer cells known as minimal residual disease (MRD) which could still regrow into further tumours.

By finding signs that lung cancer cells might still be present and active after treatment, using methods such a liquid biopsy, doctors might be able make better choices about treating patients, aiming to improve the chances of survival for patients who are at higher risk while reducing side effects for patients who are at a lower risk group.

The LUCID-DNA study aimed to find out if circulating DNA can be detected in early stage lung cancers. It used a liquid biopsy, called RaDaR™, which analyses up to 48 different mutations that are unique to each patient’s tumour. RaDaR™ was developed by Inivata, a biotech company co-founded by Dr Rosenfeld, and is based on technologies developed initially by his lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

Dr Nitzan Rosenfeld, group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Chief Scientific Officer of Inivata and co-lead author of the study, said: “If cancer cells remain in the body after treatment a tumour can regrow. If that happens, it is a big setback for patients and the doctors treating them.

“Liquid biopsy can be used to detect tiny amounts of residual cancer after treatment, flagging those patients who have signs that their tumour may not have been eradicated completely with treatment. We’re hoping that this technology could help doctors decide when additional rounds of treatment are needed, and could save lives.”

To find out if liquid biopsy could find lung cancer patients with MRD, the LUCID-DNA study team enrolled 88 patients who were treated at Royal Papworth Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital for early stage non-small cell lung cancer. This type of cancer accounts for over 85% of all lung cancer cases.

The research team extracted DNA from tumour samples provided by the patients and sequenced the DNA to find combinations of mutations unique to each patient’s lung cancer. Using this genetic “fingerprint”, Inivata created a blood test which was personalised to the patient’s tumour.

The liquid biopsies were then used to detect tumour DNA in blood samples collected before treatment, and for up to 9 months after treatment. The researchers found that patients who had tumour DNA present between two weeks and four months after treatment were much more likely to have their lung cancer come back or to die from it.

Professor Robert Rintoul, Professor of Thoracic Oncology at the University of Cambridge, Honorary Respiratory Physician at Royal Papworth Hospital and co-lead author of the study, said: “We need to study these liquid biopsies further to find the best ways to deploy them, but these results clearly show that they can potentially be an effective tool to help decide which patients need further treatment.

“Being able to offer patients personalised monitoring and treatment will ultimately save more lives and help us to beat cancer sooner.”

Lung cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the UK. Every year, around 48,500 people are diagnosed with lung cancer and every year around 35,100 people die from the disease in the UK.

Aart Alders participated in the LUCID-DNA observational clinical study at Royal Papworth Hospital following his lung cancer surgery.

“I was first diagnosed with an early-stage lung cancer about five years ago and underwent a surgical operation to remove it,” he said. “Although some people need further treatment with chemotherapy, I have been very fortunate and my original lung cancer has not returned.

“I was very pleased to be able to help with the LUCID-DNA research study. By trying to develop a blood test to help doctors predict whether a lung cancer might come back or not, we will increase the chance of curing more people.”

Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Lung cancer is one of the biggest killers in the UK. The earlier it is caught, the more likely it is to be treated successfully.

“Detecting signs of cancer before or after treatment without the need for invasive surgery has huge potential for both patients and doctors.

“I look forward to seeing more research that will develop liquid biopsy further, which will and ultimately make it much easier for doctors to offer treatment that best matches the patient’s needs, increasing their chance of survival.”

Adapted from a press release by Cancer Research UK

source: cam.ac.uk


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Study Suggests Lithium May Decrease Risk of Developing Dementia

Study Suggests Lithium May Decrease Risk of Developing Dementia

Older couple walking
Older couple walking Credit: In-Press Photography

 

Researchers have identified a link which suggests that lithium could decrease the risk of developing dementia, which affects nearly one million people in the UK.

 

Delaying the onset of dementia by just five years could reduce its prevalence and economic impact by as much as 40 percent

Shanquan Chen

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, conducted a retrospective analysis of the health records of nearly 30,000 patients from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. The patients were all over the age of 50 and accessed NHS mental health services between 2005 and 2019.

The analysis suggested that patients who received lithium were less likely to develop dementia than those who did not, although the overall number of patients who received lithium was small.

Their findings, reported in the journal PLoS Medicine, support the possibility that lithium could be a preventative treatment for dementia, and could be progressed to large randomised controlled trials.

Dementia is the leading cause of death in elderly Western populations, but no preventative treatments are currently available: more than 55 million people worldwide have dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease the most common form.

“The number of people with dementia continues to grow, which puts huge pressure on healthcare systems,” said Dr Shanquan Chen from Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry, the paper’s first author. “It’s been estimated that delaying the onset of dementia by just five years could reduce its prevalence and economic impact by as much as 40 percent.”

Previous studies have proposed lithium as a potential treatment for those who have already been diagnosed with dementia or early cognitive impairment, but it is unclear whether it can delay or even prevent the development of dementia altogether, as these studies have been limited in size.

Lithium is a mood stabiliser usually prescribed for conditions such as bipolar affective disorder and depression. “Bipolar disorder and depression are considered to put people at increased risk of dementia, so we had to make sure to account for this in our analysis,” said Chen.

Chen and his colleagues analysed data from patients who accessed mental health services from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust between 2005 and 2019. Patients were all over 50 years of age, received at least a one-year follow-up appointment, and had not been previously diagnosed with either mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

Of the 29,618 patients in the study cohort, 548 patients had been treated with lithium and 29,070 had not. Their mean age was just under 74 years, and approximately 40% of patients were male.

For the group that had received lithium, 53, or 9.7%, were diagnosed with dementia. For the group that had not received lithium, 3,244, or 11.2%, were diagnosed with dementia.

After controlling for factors such as smoking, other medications, and other physical and mental illnesses, lithium use was associated with a lower risk of dementia, both for short and long-term users. However, since the overall number of patients receiving lithium was small and this was an observational study, larger clinical trials would be needed to establish lithium as a potential treatment for dementia.

Another limitation of the study was the number of patients who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is normally associated with an increased risk of dementia. “We expected to find that patients with bipolar disorder were more likely to develop dementia, since that is the most common reason to be prescribed lithium, but our analysis suggested the opposite,” said Chen. “It’s far too early to say for sure, but it’s possible that lithium might reduce the risk of dementia in people with bipolar disorder.”

This paper supports others which have suggested lithium might be helpful in dementia. Further experimental medicine and clinical studies are now needed to see if lithium really is helpful in these conditions.

The research was supported in part by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

 

Reference:
Shanquan Chen et al. ‘Association between lithium use and the incidence of dementia and its subtypes: A retrospective cohort study.’ PLoS Medicine (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003941

source: cam.ac.uk


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Effectiveness of Antibiotics Significantly Reduced When Multiple Bugs Present

Effectiveness of Antibiotics Significantly Reduced When Multiple Bugs Present

Woman coughing
Woman coughing Credit: Science Photo Library

 

A study has found that much higher doses of antibiotics are needed to eliminate a bacterial infection of the airways when other microbes are present. It helps explain why respiratory infections often persist in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis despite treatment.

 

People with chronic infections often have co-infection with several pathogens, but the problem is we don’t take that into account in deciding how much of a particular antibiotic to treat them with

Thomas O’Brien

In the study, published today in The ISME Journal, researchers say that even a low level of one type of microbe in the airways can have a profound effect on the way other microbes respond to antibiotics.

The results highlight the need to consider the interaction between different species of microbe when treating infections with antibiotics – and to adjust dosage accordingly.

“People with chronic infections often have co-infection with several pathogens, but the problem is we don’t take that into account in deciding how much of a particular antibiotic to treat them with. Our results might help explain why, in these people, the antibiotics just don’t work as well as they should,” said Thomas O’Brien, who carried out the research for his PhD in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry and is joint first author of the paper.

Chronic bacterial infections such as those in the human airways are very difficult to cure using antibiotics. Although these types of infection are often associated with a single pathogenic species, the infection site is frequently co-colonised by a number of other microbes, most of which are not usually pathogenic in their own right.

Treatment options usually revolve around targeting the pathogen, and take little account of the co-habiting species. However, these treatments often fail to resolve the infection. Until now scientists have had little insight into why this is.

To get their results the team developed a simplified model of the human airways, containing artificial sputum (‘phlegm‘) designed to chemically resemble the real phlegm coughed up during an infection, packed with bacteria.

The model allowed them to grow a mixture of different microbes, including pathogens, in a stable way for weeks at a time. This is novel, because usually one pathogen will outgrow the others very quickly and spoil the experiment. It enabled the researchers to replicate and study infections with multiple species of microbe, called ‘poly-microbial infections’, in the laboratory.

The three microbes used in the experiment were the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, and the fungus Candida albicans – a combination commonly present in the airways of people with cystic fibrosis.

The researchers treated this microbial mix with an antibiotic called colistin, which is very effective in killing Pseudomonas aeruginosa. But when the other pathogens were present alongside Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the antibiotic didn’t work.

“We were surprised to find that an antibiotic that we know should clear an infection of Pseudomonas effectively just didn’t work in our lab model when other bugs were present,” said Wendy Figueroa-Chavez in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, joint first author of the paper.

The same effect happened when the microbial mix was treated with fusidic acid – an antibiotic that specifically targets Staphylococcus aureus, and with fluconazole – an antibiotic that specifically targets Candida albicans.

The researchers found that significantly higher doses of each antibiotic were needed to kill bacteria when it was part of poly-microbial infection, compared to when no other pathogens were present.

“All three species-specific antibiotics were less effective against their target when three pathogens were present together,” said Martin Welch, Professor of Microbial Physiology and Metabolism in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry and senior author of the paper.

At present antibiotics are usually only laboratory tested against the main pathogen they are designed to target, to determine the lowest effective dose. But when the same dose is used to treat infection in a person it often doesn’t work, and this study helps to explain why. The new model system will enable the effectiveness of potential new antibiotics to be tested against a mixture of microbe species together.

Poly-microbial infections are common in the airways of people with cystic fibrosis. Despite treatment with strong doses of antibiotics, these infections often persist long-term. Chronic infections of the airways in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) are also often poly-microbial.

By looking at the genetic code of the Pseudomonas bacteria in their lab-grown mix, the researchers were able to pinpoint specific mutations that give rise to this antibiotic resistance. The mutations were found to arise more frequently when other pathogens were also present.

Comparison with the genetic code of 800 samples of Pseudomonas from around the world revealed that these mutations have also occurred in human patients who had been infected with Pseudomonas and treated with colistin.

“The problem is that as soon as you use an antibiotic to treat a microbial infection, the microbe will start to evolve resistance to that antibiotic. That’s what has happened since colistin started to be used in the early 1990’s. This is another reminder of the vital need to find new antibiotics to treat human infections,” said Welch.

This research was funded by the British Lung Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

source: cam.ac.uk

Reference

O’Brien, T. et al: ‘Decreased efficacy of antimicrobial agents in a polymicrobial environment.’ The ISME Journal, March 2022. DOI: 10.1038/s41396-022-01218-7


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Drug Incorporated Into Silicone Coating Reduces ‘Foreign Body Reaction’ To Implants

X-Ray Showing Pacemaker
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Long-term use of implantable electronic medical devices – such as pacemakers and cochlear implants – is hampered by the body’s reaction to foreign bodies. Now, in a study in mice, a team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge has shown that this reaction can be dramatically reduced by incorporating an anti-inflammatory drug into the silicone coating around the implant.

 

Combining these drugs with different materials and softer coatings for devices could transform the lives of individuals who need long-term implants to overcome serious disability or illness

Clare Bryant

Implantable electronic medical devices are already widely used for a number of applications, but they also offer the prospect of transforming the treatment of intractable conditions, such as the use of neural electrical stimulators for spinal injury patients.

There is one major problem, however: our body recognises, attacks and surrounds these implants with a dense, ‘protective’ capsule of scar tissue that prevents electrical stimulation reaching the nervous system.

This so-called ‘foreign body reaction’ is driven by an inflammatory response against the implant. First, immune cells known as macrophages attack and try to destroy the device. Then a more long-term response kicks in, again coordinated by the macrophages, which leads to the build-up of a collagen-rich capsule to separate it from the surrounding tissue. This response then persists until the implant is removed from the body.

The mechanisms by which foreign body reaction occurs are poorly understood, meaning that there are no effective methods to prevent it without interfering with the tissue repair mechanisms, for example after nerve damage.

First author Dr Damiano Barone from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge said: “Foreign body reaction is currently an unavoidable complication of implantation and is one of the leading causes of implant failure. At the moment, the only way we have of preventing it is to use broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory drugs such as dexamethasone. But these are problematic – they may stop the scarring, but they also stop the repair.”

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists implanted an electrical device into mice to compensate for sciatic nerve damage and compared the response within the surrounding tissue to that in mice who did not receive an implant. As well as using normal mice, the researchers used mice whose genes controlling the inflammatory response had been ‘knocked out’, preventing a response.

This allowed the team to see how the body’s inflammatory response generated the foreign body reaction, and which genes were involved. In turn, this showed that a particular molecule known as NLRP3 plays a key role.

The researchers then added a small molecule known as MCC950 to the device coating and tested its effect in the mice. MCC950 has previously been shown to inhibit the activity of NLRP3. They found that this prevented the foreign body reaction without affecting tissue regeneration. This contrasted with dexamethasone treatment, which prevents the foreign body reaction but also blocks nerve regeneration.

NLRP3 inhibitors are being developed for a number of clinical applications including inflammatory disease, cancer, sepsis, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. They are already being tested in clinical trials for certain conditions.

Joint senior author Professor Clare Bryant from the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge said: “There’s a lot of excitement around this new class of anti-inflammatory drugs. Once they’ve been through clinical trials and have been shown to be safe to use, we should be in a good position to integrate them into the next generation of implantable devices.

“Combining these drugs with different materials and softer coatings for devices could transform the lives of individuals who need long-term implants to overcome serious disability or illness. In particular, this could make a huge difference to neuroprosthetics – prosthetics that connect to the nervous system – where the technology exists, but scarring has not yet made their widespread use viable.”

The research was supported by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome.

Reference
Barone, DG et al. Prevention of the foreign body response to implantable medical devices by inflammasome inhibition. PNAS; 14 March 2022; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2115857119


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Climate Action Scholarships For Small Island Nation Students Launched in Partnership With HRH The Prince of Wales

Earth from space (image by NASA)
source: www.cam.ac..uk

 

Students from small island nations will be supported in their work to address climate change through new scholarships inspired by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and announced today by the Universities of Cambridge, Toronto, Melbourne, McMaster and Montreal.

 

The alumni of the programme will form a cohort of talented people who will become future leaders and ambassadors in sustainability.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor

The climate action awards are being launched to coincide with Commonwealth Day, and recognise the disproportionate effects of climate change on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), many of which are part of the Commonwealth.

Working with HRH The Prince of Wales, Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, developed the initiative that will widen access by supporting students on courses that engage with sustainability, helping them develop their existing skills and knowledge to address the effects of climate change in the countries they come from.

“Climate change is a global challenge and we all have a role to play, as individuals and as organisations,” said Professor Toope. “The University of Cambridge is responding to the climate emergency on many fronts – through research and policy expertise, and by developing solutions that work for our lives and for our planet. The launch of these new scholarships, in partnership with HRH The Prince of Wales, who has long been a champion of environmental causes, is an extension of our ongoing commitment.

“The students who these new scholarships are aimed at are likely to have experienced first-hand the severe effects of climate change, including flooding and erosion in their own countries and communities. These awards will support their vital work around climate change, which will undoubtedly have an added and hugely personal significance for them. The alumni of the programme will form a cohort of talented people who will become future leaders and ambassadors in sustainability.”

The programme will see scholarships provided at the University of Toronto, the University of Melbourne, McMaster University and the University of Montreal, which along with the University of Cambridge have come together to address this critical issue.

In Cambridge, the programme of awards will be offered by the Cambridge Trust, which will be awarding 10 fully-funded ‘HRH The Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarships’ over the next two years, with the first recipients expected to take up their places at the University of Cambridge in October 2022.

The Cambridge Trust was established in the 1980s with the specific objective of providing scholarships to students from the Commonwealth and wider world who lacked the means to fund their studies at the University of Cambridge.  His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, himself a Cambridge alumnus having graduated from Trinity College in 1970, has been involved in the work of the Trust for many years, serving as Patron since 2010.

Back in 2018, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth and to mark The Prince of Wales’ 70th birthday, the Cambridge Trust launched a programme of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales Scholarships. The scholarships funded University of Cambridge postgraduate applicants from Commonwealth nations whose studies focused on practical themes affecting the future of those nations, such as climate change, the blue economy and sustainability.  As part of the three-year programme, 20 fully-funded scholarships were awarded to applicants from around the Commonwealth, for both Masters and PhD studies.

The Trust was delighted to be able to continue this work by joining this new initiative.

Speaking about the scheme, Helen Pennant, the Trust’s Director, said: “I hope that these scholarships will make a difference both to the students who receive them and to their countries as they grapple with the many challenges of climate change.  I would like to thank HRH The Prince of Wales for his support of this important initiative.”

Scholarships at Cambridge will be available to students:

•    who are citizens of or normally resident in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as defined by the United Nations;
•    who hold a conditional offer of admission to the University of Cambridge
•    studying at postgraduate level for a Masters degree or PhD;
•    pursuing courses in subjects that engage with sustainability and climate change

The HRH Prince of Wales Commonwealth Scholarship is fully-funded and will include tuition fees and maintenance.

For more information, contact the Cambridge Trust


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Russia-Ukraine ‘Off-Ramp’: Potential Plan Drafted By Cambridge Peace Negotiator

source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

International law expert outlines terms for a possible agreement on Ukraine, including proposals for the Donbas and Crimea regions, and a “Cooperative European Security Architecture”.

 

It is vital the Ukrainian government is not pressured into accepting outcomes that reward a war of aggression

Marc Weller

A “finely balanced formula” in which the disputed Donbas regions have increased self-governance but remain Ukrainian, and a tacit “status quo” for Crimea is agreed along with rights for minority groups, could help provide an “off-ramp” for both sides in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

This is according to a proposed settlement designed by Marc Weller, Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge and leading legal expert, who has mediated in a wide range of conflicts for the United Nations and others, including Kosovo, Syria, Yemen and Russian-occupied Transnistria.

Weller’s suggested deal would see NATO maintain its “open door” policy but grant Russia medium-term assurances on an effective moratorium for Ukraine, and possibly Moldova and Georgia, while allowing Sweden and Finland access if wished.

While nuclear arms controlled by the United States remain in Europe, the peace plan compels a return to negotiations on limitations of intermediate-range nuclear weapons on both sides, as part of several “confidence-building” steps.

Importantly, Weller argues that no agreement should intrude on pursuing Russian accountability for the horrific war crimes witnessed by the world in recent weeks, which may ultimately see demands for trillions of dollars in reparations to Ukraine.

His proposal is published by international law forum Opinio Juris in the form of a draft outline agreement.

“A settlement will only be possible when victory is unlikely, or when losses imposed upon either side by a continuation of conflict become truly unbearable,” said Weller. “That moment may come sooner or later, but in any event, we be must be ready to help establish peace.”

“The sense of outrage and injustice on the part of Ukraine will be difficult to overcome. It is vital the Ukrainian government is not pressured into accepting outcomes that reward a war of aggression.”

Moscow demands recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, the “states” in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region recognised by Russia at the outset of the conflict.

Their supposed independence was cynically used by Russia to argue a right of self-defence of these purportedly sovereign states, says Weller. He argues that these are “non-states”, and backing for purported statehood is not possible under international law.

Weller advocates a revised version of 2015’s Minsk II agreement that Russia has long complained was never fully implemented – one offering plenty of autonomy to both districts yet keeping them within Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

His proposed compromise, a form of “asymmetrical federation”, would see overall claims of statehood abandoned, but areas – or Oblasts – within the Donbas that have ethic or linguistic majorities be given greatly enhanced local self-governance.

“Unless Donetsk and Luhansk walk back their unfeasible claims to statehood, they will remain trapped in the twilight of international isolation, even with Russia propping them up,” said Weller.

“A settlement that keeps them as Ukrainian provinces but in an environment of self-government – almost virtual statehood – will allow both Oblasts authority over all their territory, rather than just the third taken by force in 2014,” he said.

“This would be balanced by internationally guaranteed rights to genuine local elections and safeguards for the right of minority populations—whether Russian speaking or Ukrainian.”

International observers should be maintained throughout to reassure populations of all backgrounds, says Weller, as should the possibility of cross-border links to the Russian Federation to placate separatist groups.

While cease-fire and retreat of forces – along with full humanitarian access – are conditions that underpin the settlement, Russian withdrawal from the Donbas regions could be subject to a “transitional phase”. “However, Ukraine must not suffer de-facto division forever more as a consequence of turning the invasion into a frozen conflict,” Weller said.

Crimea cannot be formally recognised as part of Russia, Weller contends, regardless of Kremlin demands. However, both sides could pledge not to challenge the “territorial status quo” of the situation as of 23 February 2022 forcibly or perhaps in general terms, for the sake of hostility cessation.

This balancing act would require international cooperation to secure rights for Crimea’s non-Russian speakers, and see the region’s Tatars – a mainly Muslim population persecuted during the Soviet years – benefit from a restoration of the ethnic minority “special protection” they once had.

While NATO’s “open door” policy will remain unshakeable in principle, Washington has already floated possible moratoria on Ukraine membership. Any settlement could adapt this into a self-imposed limitation by Ukraine for a given period of time – expressed through a legally binding unilateral declaration. Weller argues that such commitments could extend to Georgia and Moldova if needed.

He also outlines “Cooperative European Security Architecture” strategies to help reassure eastern European states that will not join NATO in the medium-term.

This would draw on existing arrangements as well as establish further steps to build transparency and keep regional tensions in check: rules for military flights toward national borders; prior notice agreements for military manoeuvres; arms limitations in key areas, supported by third-party verification.


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Enterprising Minds- The Cambridge Networker

WHO? David Cleevely, CBE, Cambridge alumnus, serial entrepreneur and one of the architects of Cambridge’s world-beating innovation ecosystem.

WHAT? Co-founder of billion-dollar company, Abcam, and of three pillars of the Cambridge Cluster: Cambridge NetworkCambridge Wireless and Cambridge Angels.

WHAT ELSE? He set up the University’s Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and was Chair of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. David also supports, advises and mentors innumerable people and organisations in both the public and private sectors.

WHY? “I don’t think one has very much time on this planet and there is a lot to do.”

Growing up, did you always know that you were going to be an entrepreneur? I was always very excited by the future, and by where chemistry, biology and, particularly, computing would take us.

As a teenager, I wanted to keep bees but my parents wouldn’t let me have them in the garden so I started a bee-keeping club at school and had some hives there instead. The chap who taught me how to look after them worked at the National Physical Laboratory. He took me along to some talks which exposed me to some very forward thinking.

Serendipity has also played a big role in my life. One day, the careers master spotted me walking down a school corridor and dragged me into a presentation for which he was short of an audience. It was by Post Office Telecommunications, looking for applicants to its training scheme. I duly applied and was selected.

While I was at university, I spent a summer working at the Post Office’s Long-Range Studies Division, where my job was to look forward 20 or 30 years. When the Division moved from London to Cambridge and I finished my degree, I went with it – which is how I ended up doing my PhD here.

Just three years after finishing your PhD, you had already set up your first company, Analysys. How did that come about? I finished my PhD in 1982 and got a job in London as a consultant. I was soon running the telecommunications division and that seemed to be going pretty well. I was making lots of contacts and decided to start my own consultancy.

This wasn’t full-fat entrepreneur stuff. There’s limited risk. A consultant earns fees and pays money into their bank account. If it doesn’t work out, they can go and get another job.

Having said that, it was a difficult couple of years trying to get it off the ground. It finally began to grow in the late 1980s, largely on the back of work we got from the European Commission.

By 1991, I had acquired a reputation as an innovative thinker and we got a big contract looking at the future of telecommunications investment. This led to a massive expansion as suddenly all these new telecomms operators were coming on the scene and needed our help.

In the 1990s, amongst other things, you co-founded Cambridge Network, Cambridge Wireless, Cambridge Angels and Abcam. What makes you get involved with certain projects? It all goes back to serendipity again. Cambridge Network began over dinner in Wolfson College at which Alec (Broers)Hermann (Hauser) and I got terribly excited about creating a network. Later, I was in a coffee shop with Edward (Astle) when I saw how the model could be extended to Cambridge Wireless.

Then Robert Sansom moved into the house opposite and we had a ‘meet the neighbours’ lunch at which he asked if there was an angel group in Cambridge. I said there wasn’t. So we decided to start Cambridge Angels.

On 21 January 1998, I found myself sitting next to Jonathan (Milner) at a dinner and asked him a few questions about what he was doing. I said, “Oh my God, we’ve got a business here.” And that was the beginning of Abcam.

That’s how these things happen. You make opportunities and take opportunities.

“You make opportunities and take opportunities.”

Everyone has setbacks. How have you dealt with yours? You always have to think about the longer term. Most people, I’m afraid, don’t understand strategy. Strategy is thinking about what different futures might look like and what you need to do now so that you are prepared, whatever happens.

When disaster strikes – as it will – your strategy means you will be prepared and won’t get worn down by the minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day stuff. You’ve got to think strategically about how it will all work in the long run. That phrase from the Bible ‘and it came to pass’ reminds us that bad things happen but you will get through them.

When things were tough in the early days of Analysys, did you ever think of throwing in the towel and getting a job? My father was a civil servant but his true love was being a cartoonist. Once, when up before a promotion board, he said, “You have to understand that for you this is a career. For me, it’s a distraction.”

I think there’s a certain amount of genetic or behavioural inheritance which means I don’t really like being part of an organisation. Fitting in isn’t my thing. It’s okay, if I think everyone is right but I’m not going to go along with them if they are wrong.

Do you have an example of not ‘fitting in’? When I was in the Long-Range Studies Division I was asked to do a study of memory and semiconductor prices for an expert panel. I submitted my paper and a guy came to see me and said, “Everyone else is forecasting that prices will fall between four and six per cent per year. You are talking about 30, 40, 50, 60 per cent.” He asked me to bring my predictions in line with the others. When I wouldn’t, he asked me to leave the panel.

People are far too conventional in their thinking and that gets in the way. It’s the young who understand where things are going. We need to listen to them.

Once you reach 50, you don’t think or pick up trends in the same way. I try really hard to fight against that. It’s like taking physical exercise: you have to keep at it. You need to talk to people and understand why they think certain things are important. Otherwise you fall into the same old ways of thinking. It is really important to listen carefully to everyone.

“It is really important to listen carefully to everyone.”

You also need to stand up for your ideas, even though we are conditioned not to. It’s like those psychology experiments where the subject gives an opinion and everyone else gives a contradictory, blatantly wrong opinion and the subject ends up agreeing with them.

You can see why that behaviour is useful in evolutionary terms: it creates cohesive groups. You are never going to get anywhere if you spend all your time squabbling but it’s not helpful when trying to do new things. The trick is to listen and find a way through.

When you are considering investing in a company, what qualities do you look for in a founder? I want someone I can have a discussion with during which we come up with ideas that neither of us would have thought of on our own.

Any red flags? People with too high an opinion of themselves, who don’t listen or give other people space.

What is it about Cambridge that makes it so successful as a hub of entrepreneurship and innovation? That’s quite simple. It’s the open-minded, cross-disciplinary working, the mix of new people and new ideas.

The fact that it’s a small city helps, and the University’s college system is hugely important in bringing together people with different specialisms in one place. It’s those chance encounters at dinner, on the train, in the street – they are what make it work.

The environmental conditions are right in Cambridge. At least, they were. Cambridge is now facing its biggest challenge. Firstly, the city is still growing at seven per cent per year, which means the surface areas that can interact with each other are getting smaller relative to the body mass. In other words, it’s becoming easier to work inside an organisation than outside it.

And then along comes Covid. Before the pandemic, we used to meet about 10 people a day. That dropped to one or two – if you were lucky – and it’s now settling out at about three. We need to get back to meeting more people in person, having those chance encounters.

I’m chair of Cambridge Ahead‘s New Era for the Cambridge Economy initiative. Of all the things we’ve got to think about – housing, transport, office space and so on – nothing is more important than networking. We need a strategy now for what we want it to look like in the future.

If we are all in these little cells and no-one is talking to each other, we are not going to innovate. And that’s Cambridge’s lifeblood.

“It’s the open-minded, cross-disciplinary working, the mix of new people and new ideas.”

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone wanting to start their own business, what would it be? Always think about the longer term, the strategy.

Remember Pasteur’s ‘chance favours the prepared mind’. Understand that great ideas emerge from a synthesis of things, whether that’s something you’ve read or thought, but more often it comes from connecting with people.

You’ve got to be a proper networker, even if you don’t think you naturally are one. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy says, “I certainly have not the talent some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.”

Elizabeth replies, “My fingers do not move over [the piano] in the masterly manner I see so many women’s do… But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault, because I would not take the trouble of practising.”

Everyone can network, even people who think they can’t. As Elizabeth says, it’s up to you to put in the practice.

“Everyone can network, even people who think they can’t.”

What are you most proud of? Setting up CSaP. The University wanted to connect academic research with policymaking. I turned this on its head. We asked policymakers what they want help with and then put them in touch with experts from different fields who can give them different perspectives.

There have now been something like 12,000 meetings between Policy Fellows and academics and the model is being copied by universities and other institutions around the world.

I’m also very proud of Raspberry Pi. Originally, I came in on the board of directors and then they asked me to be Chair. I reworked the constitution and governance structure and in December we delivered the second set of Raspberry Pis up to the Space Station, so there are now four of them up there. Which is pretty cool.

Quick fire

Optimist or pessimist? Optimist?

People or ideas? Both.  

On time or running late? Probably running late.

The journey or the destination? The journey. 

Team player or lone wolf? Team player.

Novelty or routine? Novelty.

Risk taker or risk averse? Entrepreneurs are generally risk averse. It’s about understanding and managing the risk and being in control.

Big picture or fine detail? Both.    

Lots of irons in the fire or all your eggs in one basket? There are so many irons it’s difficult to keep up with them all.  

Be lucky or make your own luck? You make your own luck but I’ve been very lucky. We are all victims of random events – you just need to be able to recognise an opportunity when you see it. 

Work, work, work or work-life balance? Work, work, work but, although I’ve been saying this for 30 years, it’s definitely about to change. On the other hand, I have just closed a funding round with a genius professor in Glasgow… 

Enterprising Minds has been developed with the help of Bruno Cotta, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Cambridge Judge Business School.


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 

Climate Change Threat To Seabirds Must Be Properly Considered For Their Conservation To Be Effective

Puffins
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

A new study shows how knowledge of climate change threats could be better connected with conservation efforts to help protect seabirds and other at-risk species.

 

Bridging climate change research and conservation action has never been more important.

Silviu Petrovan

Seabirds such as kittiwakes and puffins are being put at higher risk because of a disconnect between conservation efforts on the ground, and research knowledge of the threats to these birds from climate change. However, a new study has found that better integration of the two is possible to safeguard biodiversity.

The study, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, involved leading conservation experts at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the University of Cambridge, BirdLife International, RSPB and the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group.

It revealed that the climate change threats highlighted by European seabird conservation groups are often poorly understood. In addition, almost one third of possible conservation interventions aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change on seabirds have conflicting or lack of evidence on their effectiveness.

The team has proposed an approach for connecting conservation research and management, which they call a ‘pressure-state-response framework.’ This provides a platform for identifying missing information and areas where connections need to be tightened to improve conservation outcomes.

Co-author Dr Silviu Petrovan – a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology – said: “Climate change is happening at frightful pace, but our understanding and testing of practical responses for protecting biodiversity are lagging behind. This must change if we are to make substantive improvements – and seabirds are an urgent example.”

Lead author and ZSL Institute of Zoology post-doctoral fellow, Henry Hakkinen said: “There is a real opportunity here to identify missing information, and marry existing research on the risks of climate change with effective conservation and wildlife management.”

“Through our work we have identified several climate change threats and conservation actions that are well understood, but also several threats that are poorly understood and several actions that have very limited or mixed evidence on their effectiveness. These gaps urgently need addressing if we want to work out how we can best help seabirds adapt to climate change and survive.

“Seabirds in Europe are heavily researched and receive quite a lot of conservation attention. They are also heavily impacted by climate change, so are a good species group to start with.”

For the study, the team sent a series of surveys to more than 180 seabird conservation practitioners across Western Europe. They identified major knowledge gaps and began tallying up ways in which conservation action could address some of the major threats posed to the species by climate change.

For example, 45% of those surveyed said that disease risk from climate change was a serious threat to seabird populations, but the study showed that more needed to be done to monitor the effectiveness of conservation tools available to practitioners to address this. Hand rearing and vaccinations are suggested tools that could help.

“We need to be pragmatic and evidence-based – but also bold, and explore new approaches including, where appropriate, supporting colonisations of new habitat or even creating new habitats or breeding structures for seabirds. Bridging climate change research and conservation action has never been more important,” said Petrovan.

Seabirds represent one of the most threatened groups of birds in the world, with almost half of all species in decline. They are also significantly directly and indirectly threatened by climate change – for example by heatwaves, extreme wind and rain, and changes in food availability in response to changing climatic conditions, which lead to lack of fish for chicks during the nesting season.

Frameworks that link pressures on the environment, their effect on biodiversity and ways society can respond are often used in global policy-making to translate research to action. The team suggests that their ‘pressure-state-response framework’ could be applied to specific groups of species or ecosystems to identify existing gaps between research and conservation solutions for wildlife most at risk.

ZSL Senior Research Fellow and senior author Dr Nathalie Pettorelli said: “Our study provides an easily transferable approach for identifying missing information, and areas where connections between research and management need to be tightened to improve conservation outcomes.”

This research was funded by Stichting Ave Fenix Europa.

Reference

Hakkinen, H. et al: ‘Linking climate change vulnerability research and evidence on conservation action effectiveness to safeguard seabird populations in Western Europe.’ Journal of Applied Ecology, March 2022. 

Adapted from a press release by the Zoological Society of London.


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Cambridge Vaccine Expert In $42million Partnership To Develop ‘Future-Proofed’ Coronavirus Vaccines

Professor Jonathan Heeney
source: www.cam.ac.uk

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that DIOSynVax, a biotech spinout of the University of Cambridge, will receive $42 million (about £32 million) to develop a vaccine candidate that could provide protection against both existing and future variants of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – as well as other major coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS.

 

Our approach is to be ahead of the next pandemic – to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – which is ideal to prevent diseases caused by complex viruses such as the large and diverse family of coronaviruses

Jonathan Heeney

The investment from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will support the development of an mRNA vaccine. DIOSynVax, led by Professor Jonathan Heeney, Head of the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics, University of Cambridge, will design and select the lead antigen through proof-of-concept preclinical studies, and undertake initial clinical development through Phase I/II studies.

DIOSynVax uses the combination of protein structure, computational biology and immune-optimisation to maximise the protection that vaccines can provide against global threats including existing and future virus outbreaks. Its vaccine candidates can be deployed in a variety of vaccine delivery and manufacturing platforms.

The DIOSynVax pipeline includes vaccine candidates for haemorrhagic fever viruses, influenza, and SARS-CoV-2, the latter of which is currently in clinical trials.

If DIOSynVax’s novel antigen design is successfully deployed using the intended mRNA platform, it could potentially be used to enable rapid development of vaccines against so-called Disease X – unknown pathogens with pandemic potential that have yet to emerge.

Professor Jonathan Heeney, Cambridge, said: “We are excited to be working with CEPI on its ground-breaking mission to leverage revolutionary science and technology to outmanoeuvre and minimise future pandemic threats.

“Our approach is to be ahead of the next pandemic – to deliver custom designed, immune selected vaccine antigens – which is ideal to prevent diseases caused by complex viruses such as the large and diverse family of coronaviruses. If successful, it will result in a safe, affordable NextGen vaccine for widespread use.”

CEPI, DIOSynVax and the University of Cambridge are committed to enabling global equitable access to the vaccines developed through this partnership. Under the terms of the funding agreement, DIOSynVax has committed to achieving equitable access to the outputs of this project.

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said: “The UK Government and the country’s world-leading scientific institutions have been pivotal to the global response to COVID-19. From the development of the CEPI-supported Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – which is used in more countries than any other – to the ground-breaking Recovery trial to evaluate life-saving treatments like dexamethasone, British science has played a leading role in protecting the world from COVID-19.

“I am excited to further strengthen CEPI’s strong ties to British science through this partnership with DIOSynVax, Cambridge, to develop a vaccine with the potential to protect against variants of SARS-CoV-2 and other Betacoronaviruses in the future. Coronaviruses have now proven their pandemic potential, so it’s imperative for global health security that we invest in R&D now to future-proof the world against the threat of coronaviruses.”

The announcement was made today at the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit, which brings together a unique mix of leaders across governments, international agencies, science and academia, industry, philanthropy, and civil society to explore how to collectively prepare for future viral threats and mobilise critical resources and political support for CEPI’s work.

DIOSynVax is a spin-out company from the University of Cambridge, set up in 2017 with the support of Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.

Professor Heeney is a Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge.

Adapted from a press release from CEPI


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